Dillinger

May 9, 2017 - Comment

Willie Sutton robbed banks during the Depression because, he explained, “That’s where the money is.” Former Indiana farmboy John Dillinger also knew where the money was. And his string of early-1930s heists, murders and daring jailbreaks were so bold and notorious he became Public Enemy #1. Dillinger, Oscar-nominated* for its screenplay, is the bullet-paced story

Willie Sutton robbed banks during the Depression because, he explained, “That’s where the money is.” Former Indiana farmboy John Dillinger also knew where the money was. And his string of early-1930s heists, murders and daring jailbreaks were so bold and notorious he became Public Enemy #1. Dillinger, Oscar-nominated* for its screenplay, is the bullet-paced story of the man whose crimes captivated and terrified the nation. Lawrence Tierney plays the title role, breaking free of screen anonymity and moving into a 50-year tough-guy career that would include 1947’s Born to Kill and 1992’s Reservoir Dogs. Perhaps it was a brutal early prison stretch that turned Dillinger from kid to killer. Perhaps he was a murderous thug to his core. Either way, Dillinger presents his story with film-noir style and lets you decide.Jean-Luc Godard dedicated his first film, Breathless, to Monogram Pictures, and Dillinger (1945) was probably the main reason why. Short and brutal, like the Depression outlaw’s brashly improvisatory career, Max Nosseck’s picture was a bit of an outlaw enterprise itself. In the ’40s the major Hollywood studios had all taken a vow of chastity when it came to glorifying the headline-grabbing gangsters of the previous decade; Monogram ignored the embargo and barreled ahead, grabbing some headlines of its own and more box office than usual for a Poverty Row operation. Philip Yordan’s script was Oscar-nominated (on the DVD’s commentary track he co-credits his friend William Castle, director of Monogram’s excellent When Strangers Marry), though the film has a patchwork feel to it, as if assembled and reassembled on the run. Directed by Max Nosseck, it’s a hypnotic mix of bargain-basement filmmaking (lotsa stock footage and stark, minimalist sets), astute ripoff (the rain-and-gas-bomb robbery sequence from Fritz Lang’s You Only Live Once), and Brechtian bravura. The storyline actually scants the ultraviolence (no Bohemia Lodge shootout) and all-star supporting cast (no Pretty Boy Floyd, no Baby Face Nelson) of Dillinger’s real life–likely a matter of cost-cutting rather than abstemiousness. Newcomer Lawrence Tierney nails the guy’s coldblooded freakiness and animal magnetism, and the supporting cast includes such √©minences noirs as Marc Lawrence, Eduardo Ciannelli, and Elisha Cook Jr. Producers Maurice and Frank King would make the great Gun Crazy four years later. –Richard T. Jameson

Comments

Dave says:

Lawrence Tierney becomes a star in vintage crime drama I’m just now getting interested in film noir, and saw this version of “Dillinger” not too long ago on TCM. Liked it so much, had to own it!While this was clearly NOT the true Dillinger story (John Dillinger was not a psychopathic killer and never robbed a train) the guy playing the lead [Lawrence Tierney] was mesmerizing. I absolutely NEVER saw anyone so handsome look so convincingly evil! Even when his character smiled – his eyes remained mirthless. I cannot begin to…

Anonymous says:

This is definitely one of Hollywood’s first (if not the very first) movies about the notorious gangster, John Dillinger. Lawrence Tierney plays him to perfection as he guns down his victims while his cold, emotionless face shows no remorse. One of the most brutal scenes of all the gangster classics is when Tierney discovers an elderly couple about to phone the police & turn him in, & promptly guns them down. While this isn’t a very accurate account of Dillinger’s life, the main elements are…

Anonymous says:

Lawrence Tierney is convincing as John Dillinger in this 1945 gangster film “Dillinger”, based on truth and fictional events. The film starts with Dillinger as a small time hood who is put away behind bars for a robbery, building up to his public enemy #1 status. John Dillinger becomes the country’s most wanted outlaw. The film doesn’t waste any time getting to the point, running a short seventy eight minutes. The story covers important exploits of the notorious gangster,although the film…

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